IGN Review of God of War II
The original God of War was an action gaming masterpiece from start to finish. Its Greek mythology-derived storyline, blanketed with larger-than-life set pieces and timeless characters and themes, provided the perfect backdrop to an incredibly intense and engaging action romp. We dubbed it our pick for not only Best Action Game but overall Game of the Year for 2005, and to this day it stands as one of, if not the greatest, action games ever released. Though Kratos wound up sitting atop his throne as the God of War at the first game's finale, his tale was far from over. God of War II picks up right where the original left off and follows the anti-hero on his continued path of revenge.
When the sequel was announced, fans wondered not if it would be a worthy follow-up but whether Sony's Santa Monica Studio would actually be able to outdo the original. After all, rather than making the leap to next-gen, the developer decided to keep the franchise on the PlayStation 2 for the time being. Citing matured technology that would allow them to focus on content rather than having to work through the growing pains associated with in-progress engine development, Santa Monica Studios took the road most traveled and wound up producing what amounts to a near-perfect sequel.
The answer is that yes, Santa Monica has indeed managed to better the original, though given how fantastic the first title was, just barely. It's not an exponential improvement, one that an appearance on the PlayStation 3 may have brought, but rather an evolutionary one that has seen what small imperfections the original God of War contained polished out.
While we're not going to provide any significant spoilers that anyone who's followed the game thus far wouldn't already know, those of you who want to know absolutely nothing about the story should skip ahead to the next paragraph right about
now. The second chapter of Kratos' story once again revolves around revenge, and after being Metroided out of your godly status and powers, you head off to find the Sisters of Fate to set things right again. Well, "right" is only from Kratos' perspective as the story in God of War II isn't about black and white / good vs. evil, but rather all about perspectives. Even more so than the first game, God of War II taps into Greek mythology for a vast assortment of characters, settings and, more importantly this time, purpose, power and greed. Does that make this tale better? Frankly, it's quite arguable and it's a close one to call, but we think so. Only time (and really, another game) will tell us which chapter stands up stronger in the long run, but God of War II's story certainly doesn't disappoint. It's likely that some folks may be a little disappointed in the ending as it's obvious Kratos' journey is far from over, but it's been known for some time that a third game has been planned all along so none of this should come as a shocking surprise.
While it certainly approached flawlessness, God of War was imperfect, though fortunately many of its problems were tied directly to individual segments of the game rather than commonly-used mechanics. God of War II is practically devoid of these fallacies and even improves on the original's fantastic mechanics in a number of small and subtle ways. For example, you can now drop down walls while scaling them so that you have quick movement in all four directions. Kicking boxes or statues pushes them much farther than before, cutting down on the tedium of moving objects, and the repeated tapping of R1 to open doors has been moved to the much more repetition-friendly Circle button.
All of this works to create an experience that is perfectly paced. If you're not in the middle of a fight, you're almost certainly working on one of the game's interesting puzzles. There are few times when you'll find yourself climbing alone on walls or running down an empty pathway, though most of these times are short and the scenery around you is enough to keep your eyes engaged. Indeed, God of War II is as polished and refined an experience as you'll find in gaming.
If you thought the scale and scope found in God of War was impressive, you haven't seen anything yet. Some of the set pieces found here are absolutely monstrous and dwarf anything we've seen on the system. Monstrous horses tethered to the Isle of the Fates are so large that Kratos can easily run down their chains without feeling an ounce of acrophobia. Statues simply meant to adorn the environments are large enough to easily walk into should they be hollow, and buildings in the distance that you'll eventually wander into stand tall next to the mountains around them.
While the environments are bigger and grander in scale, you'll also find that they vary more than what we saw in the first game. In addition to areas based on marble and stone or fire and metal, you'll find lush gardens flanked by rows of trees, massive wooden structures, mountainsides covered in snow and underground caverns cloaked in organic stuff. The art direction is once again absolutely outstanding, and the guys holding digital pens over in Santa Monica deserve a pat on the back.
The combat mechanics are practically identical to the original title, and for good reason as it was already perfect the first time out. Kratos does have a few new moves up his sleeve however, some of which are just cooler versions of previous moves while some are totally brand-new and replace some existing techniques. But mechanically, if you've played the first game you'll be able to jump right in and slice the living hell out of everything around you. Instant gratification in the palm of your hands, just the way we like it.
Combat wouldn't be of much use without someone or something to kill, but luckily ancient Greece was filled with all sorts of crazy SOBs with their guts hanging out, just begging to be sliced in half. There's a larger pallet of minions to kill this time, some of which have come back for a second helping. Medusas are back, more decayed in form than before, and some of which are able to flash-freeze you if aren't careful. Cyclops are here in full effect, usually showing up when called out by little dwarfish-demons that tend to climb atop a nearby Cyclops and steer it like a wrecking machine. Boars, Cerberi, skeletons, hulking green beasts and more stand in your way to the Sisters of Fate.
One thing everyone wished there were more of in the first game is boss battles. God of War II features roughly double the number that we saw in the original, though they're not all gigantic, screen-filling beasts. While it means that some battles don't necessarily feel quite as classic as what we've seen in the past, it does allow for more variety. Part of the reason for the downscaled size of some of the battles is because you actually fight mortal men this time out, others who have ventured to seek the Sisters of Fate for their own causes. While, again, this means that some of them aren't quite as epic as we would have hoped, they're still fantastic fun and actually work into the story really, really well.
One brand-new element of the game can be seen in the first trailer as well as some of the latest footage, the flight sections. At two points in the game (if memory serves us correctly) you jump atop the back of a Pegasus, wings aflame with the fires of Olympus. Taking to the skies, you have rudimentary control over your carrier while you mainly focus on fighting airborne enemies and dodging their oncoming fire. These sections don't last long, but they're fun and work well, if mostly because they help the story and look really cool, especially when you see the Isle of Fates creeping up in the distance below the clouds.
God of War II features a number of small puzzles scattered throughout the game, and while none of them are exactly classics in the Zelda sense of the word, they're almost all really well done and are short enough as to not slow down the pacing of the game. One or two were a bit tricky and a little more difficult to solve than what we saw in the first game, but we all know Kratos to be a thinker first and foremost so they're quickly overcome.
We did come across two puzzles however that seemed a little rough around the edges and whose otherwise straightforward solution suffered a bit from imperfect implementation. By that we mean that both of them required putting something in just the right place, and if it was off by just a tad, it looked like we were on the wrong path altogether. One involved putting a pedestal on a platform and using it to block the platform from rising all the way up. On our first try, the pedestal "popped" off the platform as if it was either supposed to be all the way on or off, so we wound up trying a number of other things until we finally came back and happened to put it in just the right spot. In both of these cases the areas were rather small without too many other things to try, but it was certainly confusing to attempt the actual solution first only to have it fail and then wind up being lost for 10 minutes.
As was the case with the original game, God of War II ships with a very large amount of unlockable content and bonus materials. The Challenge of the Gods is back, though in much better form. Featuring seven challenges rather than ten, you're now able to save after each challenge so that you don't need to leave your system on for days or weeks at a time. Additionally, you'll be given a ranking when you complete each challenge, be it Mortal, God or Titan, based on bonus objectives, how much damage you took, the time you took to finish it and so forth. While you'll be able to advance after simply earning a Mortal ranking, you'll need to go back and claim Titan on everything for the highest rewards.
This, however, brings up an issue of challenge and reward vs. fun. While playing through the game is certainly well worth your time, and really a mandatory experience for PlayStation 2 owners, most of the unlockable content is only available once you've completed the game and Challenge of the Gods at the highest difficulty levels, which is punishingly hard for most everyone. There's a new arena mode that allows you to place whatever creatures you want into a battle to take them on, though you can't do this until you've perfected Challenge of the Gods and achieved the Titan ranking. Sure, there's a very good reason to reward those who can actually beat the game and its bonus modes at the highest level, but in this game there's so much locked away that it looks like a carrot dangling on the other side of a chasm. Fortunately, you're able to take the contents of any save game and carry them back and forth between the bonus sections and the main game, so if you're short on orbs to fill up a necessary magic for a challenge, you can hop back into the game and earn some more before trying again, or vice-versa.
The last two things that we want to talk about unfortunately can't be tested yet as we won't have the boxed copy of the game for a few weeks (though what we've reviewed is the final code), though neither would alter the score in any fashion anyway and we want to point them out. The first is that God of War II will not only be playable on the PlayStation 3, of course, but that it will run at a true HD resolution of 720p. We're unsure as of yet whether or not we'll see additional texture detail because of this, but we'll update this section of the review when we can test it. Editor's Correction: After posting the review, we've gotten word from an SCEA representative that the game will support 480p on the PlayStation 3 but not 720p. Our error was due to crossed information and we're sorry for the confusion. We will report back once we have the final copy in our hands.
Secondly, God of War II will ship as a two-disc set with the entire second DVD dedicated solely to bonus content, like a behind-the-scenes documentary on the making of the game. Again, as is the case with the 720p support, we'll update this section with details when we have the second disc in our hands.
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